Friday, August 1, 2008

Drinking too much of the Kool-Aid

There's been a lot of attention in the last 24 hours to the issue of race in the presidential race. Obama has suggested that Republicans will attack him because he's black, and McCain has angerily rebutted that Barack is the one who is injecting race into this campaign.

I'm not terribly interested in this dialogue. I'm more interested in how McCain and Barack are trying to establish their biographical bonafides, to make the case that they can be the leader America needs.

Obama's campaign has been of the classic outsider variety: Washington is broken, and I am the one who can fix it. At times, his campaign has been inspirational and lofty. Of late, however, one gets the feeling that perhaps Obama is a bit overly impressed with himself.

McCain, on the other hand, began his general election campaign re-introduction with an ad highlighting his experience as a POW in Vietnam. Combined with an Internet ad release showing clips of Churchill and TR, the message was clear: he's a person of strong character and will, and hence, he has the capacity to be a strong leader. But one wonders if this is an advantage in today's political environment.

Both campaigns are centered on the question of leadership, but both are approaching the question from very different angles. Which dialogue will win is anyone's guess, but this election feels very much like 1976. Voters were disgusted with corruption and scandal, and wanted a fresh, honest face. That face, of course, was one-term Governor Jimmy Carter. Obama is this year's Jimmy Carter.

McCain's biography is his weakest and strongest suit. Voters are eager for change, and they've experienced a President who was certain that he was right. As Bush himself put it, "You may not agree with me, but at least you know where I stand." In this sense, McCain's inflexibility (an asset at other times) might actually hurt him come November.

McCain and his staff, of course, are worried that Obama's change argument will win the day. McCain's campaign has chosen to attack Obama's perceived strength--as an agent of change--by suggesting he's not experienced enough to do the changing. This is the classic response to an outsider challenge: sow the seeds of doubt among voters. But McCain's response is different from past attempts. Look here:

The McCain folks are lambasting Obama, ridiculing him. This is a stronger attack than the one Bush Senior made against Bill Clinton (essentially calling him a two-bit Governor of a two-bit state). This ad, along with the celeb ad, make us question Obama's sincerity and whether there is any "there there", so to speak. One might say that McCain is taking from Hillary's playbook: It's 3AM, do you want this guy answering the phone? Or, do we want someone else in the White House who doesn't have any doubts--just like W?

Doubts remain about Obama among voters. They should. He's less known than McCain--and there's a lot of time left to update one's priors and make a more informed decision about him. McCain is hoping that in voting for change, voters vote for experienced change. It's a risky gamble, but to win in November, McCain will have to take some risks in this political atmosphere that's becoming more and more toxic for Republicans.


Caitlin Worm said...

You're still not convinced Obama is going to win? Calling him, "Lesser known?" Obama is a superstar, McCain has said so much of a star that its being showcased as a major fault. You and I both know that it comes down to the moolah...something McCain's campaign lacks -- and will continue to lack. GO OBAMA '08!

David Parker said...

I guess the main point I'm trying to stress is that while Obama is a "celebrity" according to McCain, he is less known by the voting public as a commodity. The public knows him, seems to have a positive image of him, but that image is vague and undefined. The public generally has a much more defined view of McCain--both who he is and where he stands on issues.